At Niehaus statue at Safeco Field, 85-year-old host is a hit with fans

At Safeco Field in Seattle, thousands of fans come to see the statue of beloved broadcaster Dave Niehaus. The 85-year-old seating host who takes their picture has become almost as beloved as the legendary broadcaster himself.

Every home game at Safeco Field, thousands of Mariners fans wander back to right-center field to see the bronze statue of Seattle’s best-known baseball voice.

Since the statue of Dave Niehaus was unveiled in 2011, a year after the longtime play-by-play announcer died at age 75, it’s arguably been the most photographed part of the ballpark.

But look behind the camera and you’ll see another beloved figure.

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Dale Corn, age 85, started as a seating host three years ago. One night he was assigned to the Niehaus statue, taking pictures for fans that come by, and was a natural fit.

Now “when people come to get their picture taken, it’s as much about Niehaus and Dale,” fellow seating host Jim Grieger said. “They are a team.”

“People show up just to have Dale talk with them and be with them and smile at him. His smile is infectious.”

Watch Corn for a few minutes and you see why. He handles smartphones as well as most millennials, and has a disarming charm that makes fans feel as though they’re hanging out with their own grandfather.

“You’ve got too good a smile, dear heart,” he told one woman, before explaining her picture would turn out even better with her baseball hat pulled up just a bit.

His favorites are the kids. Corn asks almost every one what grade they’re in.

Listen to the way he asks, and the tone of how he engages them in conversation, co-workers said. You can feel that he cares.

That’s part of why, of all the seating hosts on his Safeco team, Corn was voted by his colleagues as the rookie of the year during his first season. Then 82, he was Safeco’s oldest rookie of the year.

“He’s just one of those people that you wish you would have known your entire life,” said Tim Cox, who thought to put Corn at the Niehaus statue. “He’s made everybody here happier.”

Corn worked in the publishing industry for years, and also spent time as a teacher and coach. The Mariners job is one the first where he punches a figurative time clock. He commutes from Auburn with his neighbor, who worked in the Diamond Club and recommended the job.

How can you beat that?

“Look at this,” Corn said the other day as the crowd roared in the second inning. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this park.”

Corn loves asking people where they’re from, and hearing stories about what brought them to the ballpark. Taking pictures for first dates are always fun. And there was the day Niehaus’ widow came to visit.

“If you’re going to shake, that’s the time to start shaking,” Corn said. “She’s not a forbearing person in any way, but you just want to do things right for her.”

Before the fans get there, he’ll talk baseball strategy with his co-workers. There was one day he even worried about taking shifts away from younger employees who needed the work more.

“We said, ‘No, Dale,’” co-worker Brian Newkirk recalled. “‘The whole world wants you here.’”

Corn was a baseball player years ago, and played football back at Northern Idaho College of Education. It was there he met Jean, whom he married in 1950. They had two children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Jean passed away in March. Their 65th wedding anniversary would have been last month.

It’s a loss that is too difficult to talk about. But with what Corn does say, it’s obvious how much he loves her. Look at his own smartphone if you need proof. Her picture is there every time he goes to the home screen.

Corn’s co-workers see him as a role model and the cornerstone of the seating host team. He’s the perfect example of how to be a wonderful person in front of others, they say.

He may retire from the Mariners job eventually. His friends know that, and they dread it.

“We love him,” Grieger said. “Nobody on the team thinks we’ll ever be able to fill his shoes.”